Photo by Alex Mejia
Purple Pam Foundation Honors DJ Pam The Funkstress With Scholarship Contest
As a DJ on her own and as part of the Oakland rap group The Coup, Pam Warren was known for decades as "Pam The Funkstress." But that changed when the one and only Prince handpicked her to play with him, dubbing her "Purple Pam" just months before his passing in April 2016. Soon after, Warren tragically passed away in December 2017 at age 51.
Her mother, Helen Warren, and family friends set up the Purple Pam Foundation in her memory last year and are now reaching out to the creative community with a special opportunity for women in California: the Pam The Funkstress DJ Scholarship. One scholarship will grant a woman access to the DJ 101 course at Pyramind in San Francisco, while another will be good for the Intro to DJing track at Beat Junkie Institute of Sound in Glendale. Both recipients will also receive a gift basket from 1-Stop DJ Shop in Modesto.
Warren considered herself more of a party rocker than a precise cutting-and-scratching turntablist, but the truth is that she mastered both with consummate ease—and with more parts of her body than her male counterparts. (But more on that in a minute.)
"I call myself "Pam a.k.a. The Party Slapper" 'cause I like to slap the party, but I want to slap them with hit after hit after hit," Warren said of her mixing style in a 2009 interview with Davey D TV. "Scratch a little bit, bring something else in—you don’t have to play all the new stuff to get the party going. There's a lot of music out there and if you know how to rock certain songs, new stuff, old stuff, R&B, hip-hop, even if you go East Coast, West Coast, whatever, if you know how to play the songs and know how to mix it in, your party's going to be off the chain."
When he first saw her DJ in 1991, The Coup's frontman Boots Riley thought Warren was "one of the most exciting, animated, show-stealing DJs I had ever seen,” he wrote in a tribute posted to Facebook after her passing. Riley later tracked her down when she was the DJ at a San Francisco release party for Tupac Shakur’s debut album 2Pacalypse Now and asked her to join The Coup.
"She was mysterious to me," he continued. "Maybe partly because I wasn’t yet well-traveled socially—she displayed a confidence in a way that I hadn’t personally seen from a performer, much less a female performer. [She had] a boisterous, comical energy that can only come across on stage once you’ve totally mastered everything you’re doing... She also dressed, at that time, in a way that these days might be described by others pigeonholing her while attempting not to do so as 'gender non-conformist.' It was clear that this person couldn’t give less of a f**k. We were being totally sh*t on by this woman wearing a giant smile, big baggy jeans, a giant Ben Davis work jacket all the way buttoned up, and a black beanie with all her hair tucked in. Dancing all over our identities. That was Pam The Funkstress."
Deep experience or perfect technique isn't necessary to apply for the Pam The Funkstress DJ Scholarship, though part of the application process does require having access to some type of gear for long enough to film a video. Applicants are asked to submit proof that they’re aged 18 and over with a high school diploma or GED and a woman (or identify as female) along with an indication of whether they want to be considered for Pyramind or BJIOS. They also must submit a one-to-two-minute performance video using turntables or a controller and an essay of no less than 500 words stating why they should be selected. Applications are due by April 20.
Both schools are looking forward to taking on these special new students in the future.
"There are no egos; they really take constructive criticism really well,” BJIOS professor DJ Babu, who first met Warren in the '90s on the battle DJ circuit, said of the girls and women who take classes there and comprise almost half of the student body. He says they consistently excel at DJing in and out of school. "A lot of times with the male students you really gotta break down some barriers to get a point about a concept or something they’re having trouble with," he explained. "It’s an ego issue, like a, 'Don’t help me, don't help me, don't help me' kind of thing. But we love the female presence here."
One technique that students won’t learn from the schools is the one that Pam called the "titty scratch," a result of an ample bosom and a symbol of eternal playfulness from a DJ who will forever be remembered in the mix.